Abigail Adams (1744-1818)
Wife of the second President of the United States, she is an example of one kind of life lived by women in colonial, Revolutionary and early post-Revolutionary America. She is known for the stance she took for women's rights in letters to her husband, she should also be known as a competent farm manager and financial manager.
John Adams (1735-1826)
The second president of the United States, he was born in Massachusetts and was educated at Harvard. He was a representative to the First and Second Continental Congresses. He led the debate which ratified the Declaration of Independence, served as ambassador to England, and served eight years as vice president to Washington before his election as president. He managed to make more enemies than friends, promoting legislation which was not favored by either political faction, the federalists or the anti-federalists. His support of the Alien and Sedition Acts angered many citizens. He was defeated by Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and retired from public life. Both he and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Wentworth Cheswell (1746-1817)
In addition to his civic service, he was also a patriot leader. In fact, the town selected him as the messenger for the Committee of Safety - the central nervous system of the American Revolution that carried intelligence and messages back and forth between strategic operational centers. Serving in that position, he undertook the same task as Paul Revere, making an all-night ride to warn citizens of imminent British invasion.
Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
He was opposed to British taxation in the colonies and believed that the colonial government was capable of self-rule without intrusion by the British monarchy. He encouraged cooperation among the colonies by generating and circulating correspondence as the clerk of the Massachusetts General Assembly. He played a role in many of the events which contributed to the Revolution including organized opposition to the Stamp Act, protests waged by the Sons of Liberty, and the Boston Massacre. He participated in the Continental Congress and supported the Constitution subject to the addition of the Bill of Rights.
Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814)
She became a Patriot writer and first woman historian of the American Revolution. She wrote plays, poems and lots of other writings that supported independence. She used her writing to display her ideas. Her ideas and writings convinced many people in Massachusetts to become Patriots. Of all the people writing to support the patriotic cause, she was the only woman who published plays, books, and poetry.
James Armistead (1760-1830)
He was an African American spy during the American Revolution. After getting consent of his master, William Armistead, he volunteered in 1781 to join the army under General Lafayette. He was stationed as a spy, acting as a slave in Lord Cornwallis' camp. He relayed much information about the British plans for troop deployment and about their arms. His intelligence reports espionage were instrumental in helping to defeat the British at the surrender at Yorktown.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
He became a well-known printer in Philadelphia and an active leader in the city. He published Poor Richard's Almanack between 1732 and 1758 and his Autobiography in 1818. He was a member of the committee which wrote the Declaration of Independence but spent most of the period of the American Revolution in France. He negotiated the alliance with France and then the Treaty of Paris which ended the war. He also participated in the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, and earned distinction as the oldest delegate in attendance. His many talents earned him a reputation as "the first civilized American." In addition to his political activities, he supported education and was considered a gifted scientist without peer in the colonies. He proved that lightning was a form of electricity, a discovery that earned him international fame.
Bernardo de Galvez (1746-1786)
Before Spain officially declared support for the rebelling colonies of Britain, he was assisting the revolution. He corresponded directly with Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Charles Henry Lee and sealed off the port of New Orleans so that British ships could not utilize the Mississippi River. He also welcomed any American patriots at his ports and river. The river, under French and Spanish administration, served as a constant source of money, ammunition and weapons to the American forces under George Washington and George Rogers Clark. By 1777, more than $70,000 had reached American troops.
Crispus Attucks (1723?-1770)
He is remembered as the first American to die in the colonists' fight for freedom from Britain. He was an escaped slave of African and Native American descent, but not much else is known about him. He was part of an angry mob that surrounded eight British soldiers on 5 March 1770 outside the Boston customs house. The soldiers fired on the crowd and he was killed, along with four others. The shootings were quickly dubbed the "Boston Massacre"
King George III (1738-1820)
He became King of England in 1760, determined to re-assert the constitutional power of the monarchy. He was conservative and moral, and his reign of more than 40 years oversaw considerable political, economic, social, and cultural change. The American Revolution concerned him and his followers because they feared that the loss of one group of colonies would lead to the loss of others and the eventual decline of the empire. To prevent this, the Crown maintained an aggressive policy against colonial resistance. He struggled to enforce royal authority throughout his reign. After his first attack of mental illness in 1788 he became increasingly dependent on parliament. By 1811 he was permanently insane and his son, the Prince of Wales, acted as regent.
Haym Salomon (1740-1785)
He was a Polish-born Jewish immigrant to America who played an important role in financing the Revolution. When the war began, he was operating as a financial broker in New York City. He seems to have been drawn early to the Patriot side and was arrested by the British as a spy in 1776. He was pardoned and used by the British as an interpreter with their German troops. However, he continued to help prisoners of the British escape and encouraged German soldiers to desert.
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
Born in Virginia, he taught himself law and developed a promising career. He entered the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765, and quickly influenced the colonial resistance to British taxation without representation. He was a member of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774. In March 1775, in an impassioned speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses, he stated: "...but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" He was active in Virginia politics, serving as the first governor of the new commonwealth. He did not participate in the Constitutional Convention, and he opposed ratification because of the potential limitations to the rights of states.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
The third president, he was a founding father and principal author of the Declaration of Independence which rationalized the break with Britain. He also approved the Louisiana Purchase which nearly doubled the area controlled by the United States. He became an early and effective leader in the American Revolution. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and in 1776 he was a member of the committee which wrote the Declaration of Independence. In 1800 he was elected president and served two terms. He maintained peace and encouraged westward expansion during the first term, completing the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 from Napoleon. He imposed the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807 which paralyzed trade for over one year. He and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)
He was a French aristocrat who played a leading role in two revolutions in France and in the American Revolution.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
He contributed to the spirit of revolution in America and France through his influential writings. He moved to the American colonies in 1774 and edited the Pennsylvania Magazine in Philadelphia. In January 1776 he wrote Common Sense, a pamphlet which attacked the monarchical system, supported independence, and outlined a new form of government. He became the leading propagandist of the American Revolution, publishing his Crisis papers. Unable to make a living in the United States following the Revolution, he moved to France. He did not get involved with the French Revolution until he read Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). He wrote The Rights of Man, in two parts (1791-2), in which he urged a radical departure from traditional rule and adoption of a government by the consent of citizens.
George Washington (1732-1799)
He became the first President of the United States elected following procedures outlined in the newly ratified Constitution. He served two terms between 1789 and 1797. During his two terms he started regular meetings of his cabinet and supported Alexander Hamilton's plans to deal with war debts and create a currency system for the new nation. He was a Federalist, believing in a strong central government and the responsibility of the wealthy to ensure the wellbeing of all, but he remained open to the opinions of others, especially fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In 1793 he sought to avoid another war with European powers, Britain and France, by issuing the Neutrality Proclamation, a move which incensed pro-French Jeffersonians but heartened Federalists. This stands as one of his greatest accomplishments because it allowed the fledgling United States to build a solid system of government, expand westward, and develop a merchant marine to engage in trade without becoming embroiled in another European war.
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)
Known as "Old Hickory," he contributed to the democratic spirit in America, becoming the symbol of the common man's rise from meager origins to positions of prominence. He rose to national prominence during the War of 1812 as a military leader who challenged the Creek Indians in Alabama, and who fended off the British in the Battle of New Orleans. He increased the control of the executive branch of government thereby starting a trend toward centralized government. His Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the relocation of Native Americans from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi to open these lands for white settlement. More than 100,000 Indians moved over a ten-year period in a process known as the "Trail of Tears." he appointed political allies to positions in his government, a process called the "spoils system," and vetoed more bills in his two terms as president than previous presidents combined.
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
He served as the 6th President of the United States and interestingly, was the eldest son of the 2nd President. His political career was marked by two words, which summed up his passion: Independence and Union. As a member of Congress he enjoyed the most remarkable phase of his lifelong career. He favored a strong nationalism against states' rights and spoke out against the pro-slavery messages of John C. Calhoun. He considered himself "bonded" by the Constitution to work for emancipation. He argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of slaves from the ship Amistad, which mutinied during the journey from Africa.
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850)
He raised issues which highlighted sectional conflicts and presaged the coming of the Civil War. He supported a system of national improvements to support growth and increase commerce and communication, but by the late 1820s he switched his opinion to favor states' rights. He was an eloquent spokesman for increasing the authority of states, and led opposition in South Carolina to the protective Tariff of 1828. During 1832, delegates to a state convention in South Carolina declared the tariff null and void in the state and threatened to secede from the union if federal representatives used force to collect duties. Jackson responded to the Nullification Crisis by sending reinforcements and speaking out against the right of any state to ignore a federal law.
Henry Clay (1771-1852)
He was known as the "Great Compromiser" for his ability to smooth sectional conflict through balanced legislation. First a senator and then a representative to the U.S. Congress from Kentucky, he served as speaker of the house for the majority of his 13 years of service. He favored internal improvements and westward expansion. He sponsored the Missouri Compromise in 1820, admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, preserving the United States for the moment. He also proposed measures which stilled the Nullification Crisis in 1832. He returned to the senate in 1831 as a Whig and served 11 more years. He died in office during his final term (1849-52).
Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
He was a representative and senator from New Hampshire and then Massachusetts in the U.S. Congress. He served twice as secretary of state and negotiated the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842 which resolved a border dispute with Canada. He was noted for his speaking ability and his commitment to preserving the union of states.
General John J. Pershing (1860-1948)
Born in Missouri, he spent his life in the military. He graduated from West Point in 1886 and was commissioned second lieutenant of cavalry. He fought in the Indian Wars, commanded an all-black unit for a time, taught at West Point, and served as a military observer during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
Jefferson Davis (1808-1889)
President of the Confederate States of America, he was educated at West Point and served on the frontier during the 1830s. He was appointed provisional president and then was elected president of the confederacy. He was demanding, did not tolerate disagreement, interfered in military matters, and did not select effective subordinates. Regardless, he managed to hold the confederacy together despite the lack of consensus among southerners. He supported the confederate cause after the war, writing a two-volume history, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)
The eighteenth president, he gained notoriety as commander of the Union army during the Civil War. He graduated from West Point, served in the Mexican War, and then resigned from the military after serving in posts on the west coast. He was commissioned as a colonel at the start of the Civil War. After a series of victories, including the capture of Vicksburg, Lincoln gave him command of the Union army. He created an overall plan concentrated on Sherman's march through Georgia and his own assault on the Confederate army in Virginia. He accepted Lee's surrender in 1865, ending the war. He wanted peace, not continued military reconstruction in the South, but he was unprepared to serve as president.
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
He gained recognition for his military leadership during the Civil War. A soldier who graduated second in his class at West Point, he served in the Mexican War and worked as an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers. When the South seceded, Lincoln offered him the command of Union forces but he refused, resigned from the U.S. Army, and returned to Virginia to serve with the Confederate forces. In 1862 he was appointed to command the Army of Northern Virginia. His battle strategies are admired to this day, but he was criticized for having a narrow strategy centered on his native Virginia. He surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. Following the war he urged southerners to pledge allegiance to the north and rebuild the nation.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
He served as president of the United States during the Civil War. He managed to preserve the unity of the United States and took steps to abolish slavery, but was assassinated before he could implement post-war plans. He helped build the Republican Party, which replaced the Whig Party in the 1850s, from obscurity to the party of choice by 1860. His Gettysburg Address, delivered in November 1863 at the dedication of the national cemetery at the Civil War battlefield, called for national unity despite obstacles. His most lasting influence remains the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in December 1865, months after his death. It banned slavery throughout the United States.
William Carney (1842-1908)
He was the first African American to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He served with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and took part in the July 18, 1863 assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. He received his medal for saving the American flag and planting it on the parapet and holding it while the troops charged. He was wounded four times, but returned the flag to the lines, saying, "Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!"
Philip Bazaar (?-?)
Born in Chile, South America, he was a Navy seaman who was awarded the United States' highest military decoration for valor in combat - the Medal of Honor (1865)- for having distinguished himself during the battle for Fort Fisher of the American Civil War.
Hiram Rhodes Revels (1822-1901)
American clergyman and educator who became the first black citizen to be elected to the U.S. Senate (1870-71), during Reconstruction. He was a Republican and he was anxious not to encourage race friction with white Southerners; he therefore supported legislation that would have restored the power to vote and to hold office to disenfranchised members of the former Confederacy. In January 1870 he was elected to the U.S. Senate to fill the unexpired term of the former Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
He devised a financial system which stabilized the national economy after the American Revolution, and restructured national debt so it functioned as a political asset rather than a liability. He became involved in the Revolution and enlisted in the New York militia in 1776, becoming Washington's aide-de-camp. He represented New York in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia of 1787. He was one of the leading federalists; he favored a strong central government and helped write The Federalist papers. As the first secretary of the treasury, he convinced Congress to assume the debts states incurred during the Revolution, supported foreign trade and tariffs to provide revenue to the nation, established a mint, and developed a national bank, the Bank of the United States.
James Madison (1751-1836)
He participated in the Continental Congress, and because of his leadership role in writing and ratifying the U.S. Constitution, is considered the "Father of the Constitution." He was one of three authors of The Federalist papers. He supported a strong central government, a political theory that coalesced as the platform of the Federalist party. He wrote the first 12 amendments to the Constitution, ten of which were ratified as the Bill of Rights. Elected president in 1808, he presided through the War of 1812 and fled Washington, D.C. in August 1814, when the British invaded and set the public buildings, the Capitol, and the White House afire.
George Mason (1725-1792)
Born on the family plantation in Virginia, he did not seek glory in public service, but his writings influenced those working to develop a new government. He believed in the need to restrict governmental power and supported protection of human rights. His Virginia Declaration of Rights was a model for other bills of rights in the United States and in France where the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted in 1789.
Marbury v. Madison (1803)
First decision by the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional (1803). Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which spelled out the practice of delivering such commissions for judges and justices of the peace, was unconstitutional because it the gave the Supreme Court authority that was denied it by Article III of the Constitution. Thus, the Supreme Court said, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was illegal and not to be followed. This was the first time the Supreme Court struck down a law because it was unconstitutional. It was the beginning of the practice of "judicial review."
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the opinion for this landmark case defining the powers of a state over the federal government. Summary: The United States, at this time had a federal bank, the Bank of the United States. The State of Maryland voted to tax all bank business not done with state banks. This was meant to be a tax on people who lived in Maryland but who did business with banks in other states. However, the State of Maryland also sought to tax the federal bank. Andrew McCulloch, who worked in the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States, refused to pay the tax. The State of Maryland sued, and the Supreme Court accepted the case. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that the federal government did indeed have the right and power to set up a federal bank.
Gibbons v. Ogden
The Court said that the federal commerce clause, in effect, outranked a state law that had granted a monopoly to one group of people. Summary: The New York Legislature had passed a law giving a monopoly on steamship travel in New York state to a group of investors, including Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamship Clermont. Among the people who had permission to do business under this monopoly was Aaron Ogden. Thomas Gibbons, another steamship trader, wanted to use the New York waterways for his business, too. He had been given federal permission to do so. He was denied access to these waterways by the State of New York, which cited its law as enforcement. Gibbons sued Ogden, and the Supreme Court agreed to decide the case. The majority opinion, written by Marshall, said that the U.S. Constitution had a commerce clause that allowed the federal government to regulate commerce, in this case trade, wherever it might be, including within the borders of a state. Thus, the Supreme Court extended the definition of interstate commerce and cemented the power of the federal government over the states when laws conflicted.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
The Supreme Court decision Dred Scott v. Sandford was issued on March 6, 1857. Delivered by Chief Justice Roger Taney, this opinion declared that slaves were not citizens of the United States and could not sue in Federal courts. In addition, this decision declared that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories. The Dred Scott decision was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)
"Founder of the State of Connecticut, Father of American Democracy." He led about one hundred people away to begin a new settlement, which is now called Hartford, Connecticut. Later three settlements merged to form the Connecticut Colony. This colony put his principles into practice when it adopted the Fundamental Orders sometimes called the first written constitution.
Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
A French political and social philosopher, he defined the principle of separation of powers, calling for a system of checks and balances in government, in The Spirit of Laws (1734). His ideas influenced the founding fathers, notably Thomas Jefferson who developed them further in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1784).
John Locke (1632-1704)
His writings on the nature of government influenced the founding fathers of the United States. He was an English philosopher whose political theories were best summarized in his doctrine of natural rights which outlined the fundamental rights all humans should enjoy: life, liberty, and property. His most significant work was his Second Treatise of Government (1690) in which he rejected the divine right of kings to rule, and argued for constitutional government to limit the power of the monarch thus preserving the natural rights of citizens.
William Blackstone (1723-1780)
A British jurist, he gave the first university lectures on English common law. His classic Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765 - 69) is the best-known description of the doctrines of English law; it became the basis of university legal education in England and North America.
William Penn (1644-1718)
He established a colony in Pennsylvania as a refuge for Quakers and a place where they could create a government based on their own standards. He aggressively advertised his land grant and attempted to treat Native Americans and squatters from other colonies residing in the grant fairly. He rarely visited the colony and lived there only a few years which caused residents of the colony to under appreciate his role in the colony's development. He supported freedom of worship, welcomed immigrants, and did not require residents to serve in the militia.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
He was a leading American essayist, poet, practical philosopher, and transcendentalist. Transcendentalism, one of the most significant literary movements of nineteenth-century America, was based in idealism, the goodness of humankind and the harmony of creation. He was inspired by leading transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. The cabin he built on Walden Pond, and lived in for two years, was on property Emerson owned. His most influential essay was Civil Disobedience (1849). He supported abolitionism, lecturing and writing against slavery.
John Marshall (1755-1835)
As a justice in the U. S. Supreme Court, he established the authority of the court in defining the limits of the U.S. Constitution and the authority of the executive branch. He served in the Virginia legislature and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Federalist. He was appointed chief justice by President John Adams and served from 1801-1835. During his tenure he shaped federal law and government. Most important was the Marbury v. Madison decision (1803) in which he ruled that the federal courts had the power to determine whether or not congressional legislation was constitutional.
Frederick Douglass (ca. 1817-1895)
He was a leading African-American abolitionist in the nineteenth century who captivated his audiences with his strong presence. Born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, he escaped in 1838 to New Bedford, Massachusetts. He subscribed to The Liberator, the publication of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and began lecturing for Garrison on the abolitionist movement in 1841. He was an accomplished orator and writer, both of which developed from his involvement with abolition. He continued to speak to issues of civil rights and human freedom until his death.
John Paul Jones (1747-1792)
He is considered the founder of the U.S. Navy. Born in Scotland, he was apprenticed to a merchant trading in the West Indies and American Colonies. He changed his name to Jones following the murder of a crew member on his merchant vessel in 1773. He was daring and volatile, and led raids on British vessels during the American Revolution. In 1779 he commanded the Bonhomme Richard and engaged the British vessel the Serapis in battle. When the Serapis captain asked him if he was prepared to surrender, He replied, "I have not yet begun to fight." True to his word, he and crew defeated the British, an event which marked the high point of his career.
James Monroe (1758-1831)
Involved in politics most of his life, he established one of the basic principles of American foreign policy with his Monroe Doctrine. During his administration he signed the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and issued the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. In the doctrine, Monroe declared that the European powers should not colonize or interfere in the affairs of nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Stonewall Jackson (1824-1863)
Born in what is now the state of West Virginia, in the town of Clarksburg, he possessed a strong military background at the outbreak of the Civil War. His training in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, recognition as a hero in the Mexican War, and his experience as an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute justified his rank of brigadier general at the first major battle of the Civil War near Manassas, Virginia. Upon that field, General Bernard E. Bee proclaimed, "There is Jackson standing like a stone wall," and a legend as well as a nickname was born.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
She was a leading force in the women's suffrage movement for 50 years. Born in Massachusetts to a Quaker family, she taught school and became convinced that society needed to be reformed and freed from slavery and alcoholism. She was president of the Canojoharie Daughters of Temperance in the 1840s. She met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 at an antislavery rally. They organized the Women's State Temperance Society of New York. Not until 1853 did Anthony support the cause of women's suffrage and equal rights, but she remained committed to the cause for the remainder of her life, contributing significantly to the effort to attain equal rights for women.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
Author of the Declaration of the artits of Women, she was born in western New York state, educated at a female seminary, and spent her life seeking equal rights for women. She married Henry Stanton in 1840, and they had seven children. She met Lucretia Mott in England in 1840 and eight years later they organized the first convention of the women's movement, the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention. She wrote the Declaration of Rights at this convention and pushed the assembly to adopt a resolution calling for the extension of the right to vote to women. She was the primary thinker in the women's movement while Susan B. Anthony was the organizer.
John James Audubon (1785-1851)
He was a gifted artist who preferred observing and painting birds and other wildlife. He began The Birds of America in 1820 and worked diligently to acquire patrons for the project. One of his followers, George Bird Grinnell, founded the first Audubon Society in 1886, dedicated to increasing awareness of and appreciation for nature.